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INTERVIEW: Elliot Hoffman & Jon Modell – Car Bomb

Despite a career spanning nearly two decades, New York based progressive/mathcore outfit CAR BOMB are only just establishing a foothold across the pond here in the UK. On the back of last year’s Meta, which was met with a thunderous reception from critics and musical peers, the band aim to truly establish a grip on the UK market with their first UK tour dates; in support to the mighty GOJIRA. Before a show in Manchester (read our full review here) we spoke to drummer Elliot Hoffman and bassist Jon Modell to talk about the band’s blossoming reputation, their complex soundscape and why metal, and especially CAR BOMB, thrives on being considered niche.

So we are about halfway through the UK shows in support of GOJIRA, how has the tour been for CAR BOMB?

Elliot: Overall, it’s been amazing! GOJIRA taking us out, essentially plucking us out of a much smaller capped venues and putting us in front of bigger crowds and letting us get exposed to that size of a crowd, where the majority of people haven’t heard of us, the reception has been amazing! It’s really been amazing playing in front of that many people every night.

Jon: We’re first on and the place is usually pretty packed but by the time we go off everyone has shown up already so it’s not like I’ve seen before, with some opening slots where people don’t come to see the opening band, but people are coming to see us so that’s been pretty cool.

So these shows in the UK, these have really been the first proper tour for CAR BOMB. Have you seen that as your set goes on that you are winning more people over?

Jon: Yeah, for sure.

Elliot: You can tell the reaction out there after every song. People don’t know the songs and the music is progressive and complicated so you can see the pockets of people who actually know the stuff as opposed to the people who are just stood there listening trying to figure out what is happening.

Jon: We have this overly ambitious light show that we are doing also, which is kind of jarring to match the music. So if you have a new fan who doesn’t know the music and is being pummelled by these fucking lights, it’s kind of cool to see their reaction!

This tour is still coming off the back of your latest album, Meta, which was released back in September. How have you found the reaction to that album?

Jon: Amazing!

Elliot: Yeah the reception has been great, just from a critical standpoint it’s been almost exclusively praise. Just from the production standpoint, the writing. It has really been amazing.

Jon: We made a lot of album of the year lists, top 20s, top 10s and I mean MESHUGGAH put out a record last year, CANDIRIA, THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, METALLICA put out an album last year and to even be on those lists with those bands is unreal!

And with it being your third album, do you feel that it really is the best example of what CAR BOMB have to offer?

Jon: It is definitely the direction we’ve been heading for a while so yeah. From a production standpoint and a song-writing standpoint, I think so yeah.

Elliot: We were all DIY, we would do everything; recording, mixing, mastering and all that kind of stuff. This time we actually brought in people, Joe from GOJIRA we brought in to produce the record, and we had this guy Josh Wilbur mix it who has done MEGADETH, KORN, LAMB OF GOD. So bringing in other people really made a difference in pushing up the production value to where it sounds way better than the last record.

Jon: We were so scared of somebody else looking at our stuff and being like “this is our vision of it” as opposed to our own vision of it and we just had a huge learning lesson on this one that other people can actually make a huge difference for us and that other people’s perspectives actually do great things for us.

I guess the style of the band can go under progressive metal and it is very technical. When you go to write new music, how difficult is that process?

Jon: Greg [Kubacki, guitar] does the majority of the writing, he’s a machine and he loves writing. Me and Elliot also have some rhythms in mind too.

Elliot: It is a long process, it is never like here’s a song. A lot of back and forth.

Jon: Typically, our album cycle has been about four years which is excessive and we are really trying to push out another record, we’re aiming to start recording at the beginning of next year, we’re trying to cut it down so we can go out on the road more often.

And do you feel by having that longer album cycle it allows you to get a better product at the end?

Jon: It does but we have our lulls also during that period.

Elliot: We all work.

So speaking of daytime jobs, CAR BOMB released a documentary which highlighted the issues of touring and some of the problems in the metal scene. That was released back in 2010, so seven years on, has any of those touring problems gotten easier?

Elliot: Well the money has got a little bit better on the music side to where we’re almost breaking even, breaking even is the goal and we are almost there. Since we don’t have tour support we have to lay out a chunk of money in the beginning but we’re not taking a larger loss as we were years ago and that’s amazing.

Jon: It is still a passion project for all of us, a lot of the problems that did exist on why do this still exist on a smaller scale for us than before. But we are now getting better opportunities but it is still hard to tour and it’s hard to be in a band with the guys for a long period of time and the money thing, thankfully it isn’t as stressful as before. We’re all doing okay professionally, so I think that helps also.

So like you said, you are just driving it as a passion project?

Jon: Yeah

Elliot: Yeah, it is like a professional hobby almost. We are all still very into it, we definitely see it as a priority and put a lot of time into it to make it happen. so I think it is a good balance between maintaining lifestyle in New York, which is extremely expensive, and still having a artistic outlet and getting out on the road as much as we possibly can.

The documentary also looked at why metal, especially the more intricate and complicated sub-genres, haven’t been accepted in the mainstream. Would that be an ideal situation? For metal to become more welcomed or does it thrive on being a niche?

Jon: I think it thrives more on being niched out like that, I can’t ever imagine it being accepted in the mainstream.

Elliot: Well like you have a GOJIRA level, there’s like different tiers. Our last couple of albums were almost exclusively musician fanbase, it’s starting to get out of that a little bit, crawling out of that swamp. You get to a point where you have a GOJIRA where you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate that music. So the energy of the music, I think we are gradually tainting it a little bit, not too much because we write for us. We’re not writing for a crowd response, not writing for the masses. We’re probably never going to have huge commercial success but we are super happy with what we are writing and as long as we can get the critical acclaim, like Joe from GOJIRA is essentially our fan and he plucked us out of a circle. I’m friends with tons of bands who are in New York and elsewhere who are on the same level as us and they are not getting touring opportunities like this. When we toured with MESHUGGAH in Europe it was almost exclusively they like our music, these bands are at the level where they are not being forced, they can actually pick an opener. It’s an honour to be picked out of the pool of available bands.

I guess that really can help newer bands break through, if they are hand picked.

Jon: The respect of our peers is amazing, like I want that more than money. When MESSHUGAH said they wanted us to go out with them I was like “you don’t have to pay us anything!” Just going out with them is such an honour.

CAR BOMB are really starting to breakthrough as progressive metal has really exploded in recent years. With there being so many bands now, is it harder for bands to breakthrough or is the competition healthy?

Elliot: I think it is great that people are playing progressive music. Me and Jon have been playing together since 1994 and back then it was like CYNIC and WATCHTOWER and that era of progressive metal. Then it kind of fell off and the only band that was really doing that was MESHUGGAH and then, unexpectedly, you’ve got all the djent bands come out and popularise it to a newer generation. It is great for us because since we put our first album and early demos out in the early 2000s, we’re looked at as old school metalcore which is unbelievable because we were doing it in the mid 90s. It’s like “you put out an album in 2007, you’re old school” [laughs]. But I’m super happy that people are into gear, progressive music and all that kind of stuff because I’m into that!

Jon: Plus with Facebook and YouTube, it’s changed the game. You can get your shit out there, people can hear your stuff. It doesn’t matter if you are in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you get a couple of guys and put together a cool band, you can put videos out and get exposure. That’s something you didn’t have 15 years ago.

The advancement of social media has helped a lot of bands, how important is it when you’re out on the road to keep your social media profiles updated?

Jon: We’re trying to get better at it because we’re not that great at it but especially on this tour we tried to update it every day.

Elliot: Instagram, Facebook, all that kind of stuff.

And really just to close off, you’ve got this run with GOJIRA so once this tour comes to an end are you looking to festivals in the summer or is it starting to focus on the next album?

Jon: A little of both, that’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time, we’ve never done the festivals in Europe and really want to. We’ve been dealing with some PR people over here, booking agents and talking to various people to try and help us. At the same time we want to really start working on the next record because we have this arc that has been so long where Meta is just in the back. We want to keep the CAR BOMB momentum going and releasing a record does that. Touring does that. We don’t want to just be lying around doing nothing.

Do you feel that if you get onto some of the summer festivals, you can open CAR BOMB up to a much wider audience?

Jon: Sure, but we’ve never really done those so I have no idea what it is going to be like.

Elliot: We have no idea of what the impact would be in our genre. I mean we approached like genre specific festivals, either like Tech Fest or Euroblast, that type of thing. I think that would probably have more of an impact than playing at Hellfest. We’ll see how it goes and there’s all the politics, circuits and getting on those things, we don’t have label representation but it looks like it could happen, even without that stuff!

Well brilliant, best of luck for the rest of the tour and the rest of your plans for 2017.

Elliot & Jon: Thank you!

Meta is out now via self-release.

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